Over at Cardus, Professor David Koyzis (whose book Political Visions and Illusions I have recently reviewed here) has written this article on the institutional church. The distinction between church as organism and as institution lies at the heart of Kuyper and Bavinck’s ecclesiology, and it is worth repeating some of Koyzis’s main points here (and I paraphrase):
- The organism/institution distinction is what enables us to say that Christ’s redemptive lordship has a claim on every area of human life (including the arts, sciences, politics, etc.), without giving the institutional church hegemony over spheres of life over which it has no true authority or competence. We might say that the institutional church is an incubator of the Christian worldview, which we believers then apply to broader life according to our own distinctive God-given vocations and spiritual gifts.
- Herman Dooyeweerd (one might call him the father of Neo-Calvinist philosophy) helpfully distinguishes between institutional communities and voluntary associations. The former category has a binding and normative character that supersedes the consent of its individual members. The church should be seen in this light, contrary to the prevailing liberal (in the classical sense of that term) tendencies of many American evangelicals. The church is less like a country club and more like a marriage; one might choose to separate oneself from it, but not without causing serious moral and spiritual damage.
- One consequence of seeing the church as an institutional community rather than a voluntary association is the recognition of the children of believers as members of the covenant. The criterion for membership is not the voluntary consent of converted individuals—with apologies to my Baptist friends!
Koyzis has much more to say about the institutional church in his article, but this is just a small sampling of the highlights.